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Oman's coral reefs: A unique ecosystem challenged by natural and man-related stresses and in need of conservation

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Oman contains diverse and abundant reef coral communities that extend along a coast that borders three environmentally distinct water bodies, with corals existing under unique and often stressful environmental conditions. In recent years Oman's reefs have undergone considerable change due to recurrent predatory starfish outbreaks, cyclone damage, harmful algal blooms, and other stressors. In this review we summarize current knowledge of the biology and status of corals in Oman, particularly in light of recent stressors and projected future threats, and examine current reef management practices. Oman's coral communities occur in marginal environmental conditions for reefs, and hence are quite vulnerable to anthropogenic effects. We recommend a focus on developing conservation-oriented coral research to guide proactive management and expansion of the number and size of designated protected areas in Oman, particularly those associated with critical coral habitat.
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Oman's coral reefs: A unique ecosystem challenged by natural and man-related stresses
and in need of conservation
J.A. Burt
, H. van Lavieren
, K. Samimi-Namin
Center for Genomics and Systems Biology, New York University Abu Dhabi, PO Box 129188, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Bishop Museum, 1525 Bernice Street, Honolulu, HI 96817, USA
Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology, Kāne'ohe, HI 96744, USA
Blue Eco Services, Hogebiezendijk 31, 3401 RS Ijsselstein, The Netherlands
Five Oceans Environmental Services LLC, P.O. Box 660, 131, Muscat, Oman
Naturalis Biodiversity Center, P.O. Box 9517, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands
abstractarticle info
Article history:
Received 1 July 2015
Received in revised form 31 October 2015
Accepted 5 November 2015
Available online xxxx
Oman contains diverse and abundant reef coral communities that extend along a coast that borders three
environmentally distinct water bodies, with corals existing under unique and often stressful environmental
conditions. In recent yearsOman's reefs have undergone considerable change dueto recurrent predatorystarsh
outbreaks, cyclone damage, harmful algal blooms, and other stressors. In this review we summarize current
knowledge of the biology and status of corals in Oman, particularly in light of recent stressors and projected
future threats, and examine current reef management practices. Oman's coral communities occur in marginal
environmental conditions for reefs, and hence are quite vulnerable to anthropogenic effects. We recommend a
focus on developing conservation-oriented coral research to guide proactive management and expansion of
the number and size of designated protected areas in Oman, particularly those associated with critical coral
© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
Arabian Gulf
Persian Gulf
Arabian Sea
Gulf of Oman
Oman Sea
1. Introduction
The Sultanate of Oman contains over 530 km
of coral reefs spread
across one of the longest coastlines in Arabia (2092 km) bordering
three biogeographically distinct water bodies: the Arabian/Persian
Gulf, the Oman Sea (also called the Gulf of Oman), and the Arabian
Sea (Spalding et al., 2001). These reefs support over 100 species of
coral and 579 species of reef sh (Claereboudt, 2006; Grandcourt,
2012), as well as one of the largest sheries economies in the region
(US$ 522 m in 2013; FAO, 2013). Despite their unique biogeographic
context and clear importance to biodiversity and economics the coral
reefs of Oman are among the least studied in the region, with just 4%
of regional reef-related publications focused on reefs in Oman (Burt,
2013; Vaughan and Burt, in this issue). The purpose of this review is
to provide a summary of our current understanding of the biology and
status of coral communities in Oman, particularly in light of impacts
from recent events and projected threats to corals in this area. We
then explore current management practices for protecting Oman's
coral assets, and provide recommendations on potential changes that
would enhance the long-term conservation of this valuable and
important ecosystem.
2. The distribution and diversity of coral reefs in Oman
Knowledge of the corals and reefs of Oman began with surveys by
Glynn in the 1980s (Glynn 1993) that originated from concern with
the extent of effects from Acanthaster planci, Crown of Thorns Starsh
(COTS), predation. Glynn's (1993) report identied four principal
areas of reef coral occurrence (Fig. 1) in Oman's waters: i) The fjords,
bays and coastlines of the Musandam Peninsula that separates the
Arabian/Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea; ii) the Muscat Capital Area
from Sohar to Ra's Abu Dawood, including the Daymaniyat Islands; iii)
the southern shore of Barr Al Hikman and the west coast of Masirah
Island; and iv) Dhofar from the Hallaniyat Islands to Mirbat. Much of
the rest of the coast of Oman is sandy or otherwise unsuitable for
coral settlement or growth (Sheppard and Salm, 1988).
Coral cover in Oman is generally highest around the rocky shores of
the Musandam peninsula, and lowest around the Capital Area and Ras
Al-Hadd, with an intermediate level of coral cover found in the far
south in the Dhofar area (Fig. 2). In contrast, coral species richness has
generally been reported as being highest on coral assemblages in the
Arabian Sea where, despitethe relatively cool environmental conditions
associated with monsoonal upwelling, reefs are under strong biological
inuence from east Africa and the Gulf of Aden (Salm, 1991, 1993;
Sheppard, 1987; Sheppard and Salm, 1988). Table 1 lists the number
of coral genera and species that have been reported for various major
Marine Pollution Bulletin xxx (2015) xxxxxx
Corresponding author.
E-mail address: (J.A. Burt).
MPB-07303; No of Pages 9
0025-326X/© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Marine Pollution Bulletin
journal homepage:
Please cite this article as: Burt, J.A., et al., Oman's coral reefs: A unique ecosystem challenged by natural and man-related stresses and in need of
conservation, Marine Pollution Bulletin (2015),
reef areas in Oman over time, showing an increase in taxonomic
richness as collection and survey efforts have continued over the past
fty years. The most recent work by Claereboudt (2006) now lists 106
coral species in N50 genera for the Oman Sea alone, including several
new species, suggesting that the largest estimate of species richness
for the entire country to date (107 species by Sheppard and Sheppard,
1991) possibly underestimates true species richness of corals across
the nation. Much of the historic work on corals has focused on hard
corals, but in recent years there have been growth in detailed taxonomic
studies of soft corals along Oman's Arabian/Persian Gulf shores in the
Musandam (Samimi-Namin et al., 2009; Samimi-Namin and van
Ofwegen, 2012), as well as in the Oman Sea (Samimi-Namin and van
Ofwegen, 2010; Samimi-Namin et al., 2011). Still unpublished work
suggests that there may be higher richness of octocorals than hard
corals, and that their diversity is likely higher in the southern Arabian
Sea than in the areas further north, in contrast to patterns observed in
hard corals (K. Samimi-Namin, pers. obs.).
3. Environmental constraints on Oman reefs
The northern Indian Ocean undergoes a biannual reversal of wind
direction, with a southwest monsoon occurring in June through
September and a reversal to the northeast monsoon in November to
March (Brock and McClain, 1992). These winds are the driving force of
traditional maritime sailing and trade for the region and also the
dominant factor inuencing the nearshore environment of Yemen and
Oman. Vigorous southwest monsoon-driven circulation normally
peaks in July and August as the Southwest Monsoon Current and
dissipates in October.
The Southwest Monsoon is the major climatic factor affecting the
near-shore environment and areas of coral growth in Oman during
the summer months, from June to August (Brock and McClain, 1992;
Sheppard et al., 1992). These strong seasonal winds drive northeast par-
allel to the coast of southern Oman in the Arabian Sea, with associated
Ekman transport creating strong upwelling along the coastal margins,
bringing cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface (Fig. 3). This upwelled
water directly affects shallow coastal areas along Oman's Arabian Sea
coast, and has indirect impacts on corals and reef areas further north
in the Oman Sea through gyres and eddy systems that sweep into the
Fig. 1. Distribution of coral reefs in Oman.
Fig. 2. Mean coral cover (±SE) observed in major reef areas throughout Oman in 2008. Adapted from Burt et al. (2011b).
Table 1
Numbers of genera (in parentheses) and species ofcorals reported for different regions of
the Sultanate of Oman.
Reference Location Hermatypic Ahermatypic Total
Sheppard (1987) Oman Sea (31) 52 (1) 1 (32) 52
South Oman (28) 49 (0) 0 (31) 49
All Oman (32) 67 (1) 1 (33) 68
Sheppard and Salm
Musandam (31) 51 (8) 10 (39) 61
Capital area (34) 61 (6) 7 (40) 68
Dhofar (31) 52 (2) 3 (33) 55
All Oman (38) 77 (10) 14 (47) 91
Salm (1991) Musandam (36) (5) (41)
Muscat (39) (3) (42)
Gulf Masirah (26) (1) (27)
Dhofar (43) (5) (48)
All Oman (43) (8) (51)
Sheppard and Sheppard
Oman Sea (34) 70 (6) 8 (40) 78
Dhofar &
(39) 83 (4) 4 (43) 87
All Oman &
(42) 96 (10) 11 (52) 107
Claereboudt (2006) Oman Sea (35) 104 (2) 2 (37) 106
2J.A. Burt et al. / Marine Pollution Bulletin xxx (2015) xxxxxx
Please cite this article as: Burt, J.A., et al., Oman's coral reefs: A unique ecosystem challenged by natural and man-related stresses and in need of
conservation, Marine Pollution Bulletin (2015),
Oman Sea north of Ras Al-Hadd (Al-Azri et al., 2010; Wiggert et al.,
Upwelling from the Southwest Monsoon is the principal environ-
mental factor limiting coral growth and reef development along the
southern Oman coast from Dhofar to Ras al-Hadd (Sheppard et al.,
1992). It produces a seasonal combination of low seawater tempera-
tures and high nutrient concentrations that favor settlement and
growth of algae that can out-compete corals. During the Southwest
Monsoon Arabian Sea coastal seawater temperatures fall from an
average of 30 °C to 20 °C, and nitrate and phosphate concentrations
increase vefold, to an average of 2 μg-at. PO4-Pl
and 20 μg-at.
respectively (Currie et al., 1973; Savidge et al., 1990). Ocean
primary productivity increases tenfold, from less than
0.1 g C cm
between monsoons to above 1.1 g C cm
the southwest monsoon (Brock and McClain, 1992). Much of this
increase is from phytoplankton blooms (Brock and McClain, 1992),
but also due to rapid growth of large benthic brown macroalgae (e.g.
Nizamuddinia zanardinii,Ecklonia radiata and Sargassum species) that
can compete with corals for space (Barratt et al., 1986). Together, the
cooler temperatures and macro-algae dominated benthos that
characterize Oman's Arabian Sea coast cause corals here to resemble
those in more temperate environments in what has been termed a
pseudo-high latitudeeffect (Sheppard et al., 1992; Sheppard and
Salm, 1988).
This annual upwelling effect is continuous and pronounced as far
north as Ras Al-Hadd. Further north, eddies of cold water sweep into
the Oman Sea (Al-Azri et al., 2010), where cold water of about 20 °C
underlies solar heated surface water of 30 °C or more and forms a
sharp thermocline at 515 m depth. The depth of the thermocline
varies, depending on tides and the direction and speed of coastal
winds and currents in the Oman Sea, and these combined effects can
expose corals to two very different marine environments. The upper
layer is generally warm and clear with low nutrient concentrations,
while the lower layer is cold, turbid and productive (Coles, 1997).
Under these conditions, water temperatures at a given depth can
change radically over short periods. In the Muscat area Green and
Keech (1986) described a temperature drop from 32 °C to 17 °C in less
than 14 days in July 1983, and Salm (1991) measured changes in
water temperature from 39 °C to 24 °C in less than a week at the end
of June, 1990, in concert with the onset of the monsoonal season.
Temperature shifts can be even more rapid as a result of oscillations in
the depth of the thermocline with tides. Continuous rapid temperature
uctuations were recorded using calibrated thermographs at depths of
5 and 10 m near Fahal Island in the Muscat area during the 1994
monsoon (Coles, 1997). From June to August, reef bottom temperatures
uctuated 6.0 °C to 8.2 °C daily with tides, and ranged up to 7 °C on 14 of
163 days where surface temperatures were 33 °C (Fig. 4). As a result,
during the monsoonal period corals and other reef associated fauna
are being repeatedly exposed to temperatures that can approach both
the upper and lower tolerance limits for corals within a single day
(Coles, 1997).
4. The current status of coral reefs in Oman
Coral reefs in Oman have experienced several acute stressors in the
recent past that have been associated with loss of coral cover and shifts
in community structure, but the impacts of these events have varied
spatially and taxonomically (Bauman et al., 2010; Coles et al., 2015;
Glynn, 1993).
Since the 1970s Oman reefs have been affected by recurrent
outbreaks of the Crown of Thorns starsh (COTS), A. planci,with
outbreaks generally occurring at least once per decade (Al-Jufaili et al.,
1999; Glynn, 1993; Mendonça et al., 2010). Spatially, COTS outbreaks
have typically been in the Oman Sea, and particularly to the reefs
around the Capital Area and the Daymaniyat Islands where outbreak
densities have often exceeded 100 ind. ha
(Glynn, 1993; Mendonça
et al., 2010), while they are generally rare but do occur in the
Musandam and on reefs along Oman's Arabian Sea coast (Al-Jufaili
et al., 1999; Salm, 1993). In the Oman Sea A. planci feeds preferentially
on Acropora and Montipora, and as a result COTS outbreaks have caused
acute shifts in coral community structure,and it has been suggested that
the predominance of poritids and pocilloporids on reefs in the Muscat
area is the result of their differential survival through persistent COTS
grazing over the long-term (Glynn, 1993).
In more recent years, Cyclone Gonu in 2007 also had substantial large-
scale impacts to reefs in Oman. Gonu was the strongest tropical cyclone
on record in the Arabian Sea, where it attained sustained winds of
270 km/h and gusts reached 315 km/h (Fritz et al., 2010). The cyclone
made landfall near Ras Al-Hadd and moved northwest along the Oman
coast past Muscat, with waves of 5 m height causing considerable dam-
age in coastal areas (Fritz et al., 2010). Corals throughout the Oman Sea
were heavily impacted by this cyclone, with shallow (b8 m) wave-
exposed reefs from Muscat to the northern UAE coast of Fujairah showing
substantial loss of coral cover and a reduction in habitat complexity
(Foster et al., 2011; Maghsoudlou et al., 2008; Taylor, 2009).
Surveys of 36 sites across the Daymaniyat Islands three months be-
fore the cyclone showed that the area was characterized by high coral
cover (Fig. 5a and 5b), with a community composed of mono-specic
Fig. 3. Mapof sea surface temperatures inthe Oman Sea and ArabianSea before,during, and afterthe monsoonal upwelling periodin 2014 based onMODIS. Note: whitepatches over seain
August represent areas obscured by cloud cover.
3J.A. Burt et al. / Marine Pollution Bulletin xxx (2015) xxxxxx
Please cite this article as: Burt, J.A., et al., Oman's coral reefs: A unique ecosystem challenged by natural and man-related stresses and in need of
conservation, Marine Pollution Bulletin (2015),
assemblages of Pocillopora damicornis,andAcropora species (primarily
A. downingi), as well as mixed assemblages dominated by Porites (P.
lobata,P. lutea and P. harrisoni), Platygyra and Montipora, among other
species. The cyclone resulted in widespread loss of corals in shallow
(b10 m) areas throughout the Daymaniyat Islands, even in sheltered
areas (Taylor, 2009). Particularly affected were coral communities that
were previously dominated by branching acroporids and pocilloporids,
where breakage resulted in substantial loss of coral cover and structural
heterogeneity. However, impacts occurred across virtually all families,
and mean coral cover declined by two-thirds across the Daymaniyat
Islands as a result of the cyclone (Fig. 5a; Taylor, 2009, 2010). As a result,
while most sites at the Daymaniyat Islands had coral cover of 50% or
more before the cyclone, nearly all reefs had less than 50% cover after
Gonu and nearly half of sites had 10% coral cover (Fig. 5b).
The impacts of Cyclone Gonu were also signicant on mainland sites
around the Capital Area, where corals were affected not only by
wave-induced mechanical damage but were also impacted by freshwa-
ter exposure resulting from heavy rains, as well as sedimentation from
wadis discharging into the sea (Taylor, 2009, 2010). Coles et al. (2015)
surveyed coral reefs on N370 transects at 13 locations around Muscat
in 2012 and compared these against data collected at the same locations
two decades earlier (1993/94) in order to assess changes in coral com-
munities in the Capital Area in the intervening years. Their surveys
showed that there were decreases in hard coral at 9 sites (4 signicant)
and soft coralat 8 sites (3 signicant) overthe 20 years between studies.
These declines were primarily attributed to the impacts of Cyclone
Gonu, with decreases in hard coral mainly the result of declines in
tabular and branching acroporids, and coral losses mainly occurring at
sites on exposed coastlines. Indeed the only site at which a signicant
increase in hard coral was observed (Bandar Khayran) is an area that
is relatively sheltered from wave exposure.
The Daymaniyat Islands showed strong recovery following Gonu,
with re-growth of branching Acropora and Pocillopora occurring rapidly
in semi-exposed and sheltered sites around the islands (Taylor, 2009,
2010). By contrast recovery of coral cover and composition has
remained depressed at mainland sites around Muscat where sources
of vegetative fragments are limited and environmental conditions are
considered to be less suitable (Coles et al., 2015; Taylor, 2010), although
recruitment of sexually produced juveniles of multiple taxa has been
estimated that full recovery from the impacts of Gonu may take decades
in the absence of further stress (Taylor, 2009).
It was not only coral of the populated Capital Area that had been
subject to stress in recent decades. The Musandam peninsula has
generally been considered to contain some of the most important
coral reef habitats in the nation, with coral being more abundant and
Fig. 4. Bottom temperaturesat 10 m depth off Fahal Island, Oman, JulyAugust 1992 (from Coles, 1997).
Fig. 5. Differences in coralcover at the Daymaniyat Islands before andafter the 2007 Cyclone Gonu. a)Changes in overallmean cover acrosssites and b) shifts inthe frequency of siteswith
varying degrees of coral cover (n = 36 sites). Adapted from Taylor (2010).
4J.A. Burt et al. / Marine Pollution Bulletin xxx (2015) xxxxxx
Please cite this article as: Burt, J.A., et al., Oman's coral reefs: A unique ecosystem challenged by natural and man-related stresses and in need of
conservation, Marine Pollution Bulletin (2015),
reef development more substantial than elsewhere in Oman (Salm,
1993). Nationwide surveys in the 1980s showed that truereefs occurred
at 66% of sites in the Musandam, compared with 61% in Muscat and 30%
in Dhofar, with Porites being the dominant reef builder, although
Acropora,Pocillopora,Montipora and Pavona were also common (Salm,
1993). However, these reefs have been subject to recurrent stress
events in recent decades. Severe bleaching occurred in the summer of
1990 when sea surface temperatures reached 35 °C and stayed N30 °C
for three months, resulting in loss of virtually all corals b3 m deep in
embayed areas (Salm, 1993). As in other stress events, Acropora were
particularly affected, although Stylophora and Platygyra also bleached.
Although bleaching started to occur as far south as Muscat during that
summer, the onset of monsoonal upwelling brought cool waters
which minimized long-term bleaching and mortality there (Glynn,
This bleaching event coincided with a COTS outbreak through
northern and eastern Musandam around the same time (198990),
when severe outbreaks were observed at more than half of the N100
reefs examined in the peninsula, resulting in loss of large areas of
Acropora from infested reefs, as well as impacts to various other corals
(Glynn, 1993; Salm, 1993). As a result of these and other stressors
(mainly shing damage), coral reefs of the Musandam were considered
to have the highest incidence of damage of all major reef areas
examined across the nation in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Salm,
1993), and nation-wide assessment in the mid-1990s also considered
this area to have low but widespread impacts from human activities
(mainly due to shing damage and dive boat anchoring) (Al-Jufaili
et al., 1999).
Corals in the Musandam escaped the devastating impacts of the
1996 and 1998 bleaching events that heavily affected communities
inside the Arabian/Persian Gulf (Rezai et al., 2004), but experienced
localized effects from a smaller bleaching event in the summer of
2002, when nearly two-thirds of corals in protected embayments
bleached, although areas with strong currents remained unaffected
(Wilson et al., 2002). Although no long-term monitoring data are
available, periodic observations on nearby reefs in Fujairah suggested
that this area was unaffected by additional stressors for several years
afterward (Foster et al., 2011), and the impacts of cyclone Gonu were
limited for much of the Musandam as the cyclone dissipated to a tropi-
cal storm and veered out to sea after passing Muscat (Coles et al., 2015;
Fritz et al., 2010).
The most recent large-scale event to affect corals around the
Musandam peninsula occurred in late 2008/early 2009 with a large
scale (N500 km
) harmful algal bloom (HAB) of Cochlodinium
polykrikoides (Bauman et al., 2010; Richlen et al., 2010). The bloom
originated offshore in the northern Oman Sea and through its evolution
extended as south past Muscat and several hundred km into the Arabi-
an/Persian Gulf past the Musandam peninsula (Zhao and Ghedira,
2014). Bloom densities were highest in the northern Oman Sea, where
associated hypoxia resulted in mass mortality of sh and corals on
reefs from the northern UAE to the coast of Iran (Bauman et al., 2010;
Foster et al., 2011; Samimi-Namin et al., 2010). More limited impacts
occurred on reefs to the south in the Capital Area where bloom density
was lower (Zhao and Ghedira, 2014), although up to 95% loss of
environmentally sensitive Pocillopora occurred at Bandar Jissah (O.
Taylor, pers. obs.).
Coral reefson the east coast of the Musandam were heavily impact-
ed by the 2008/9 HAB event. Bauman etal. (2010) surveyed reefs imme-
diately before and during the HAB outbreak in west Musandam, and
showed substantial decreases in live coral cover, which declined by a
third during the bloom, as well as a signicant drop in reef sh biomass,
which declined by almost two thirds (Fig. 6). Although coral losses in
neighboring reefs in the UAE were primarily related to differential
mortality of Pocillopora and Acropora (Bauman et al., 2010; Foster
et al., 2011), in eastern Musandam losses occurred across all major
coral taxa (Bauman et al., 2010).
Although the algal bloom extended through the Strait of Hormuz,
the bulk of the bloom was transported along the Iranian coast and
reefs along the north and west coast of the Musandam which were
spared much of the impacts that occurred to the east. Bento et al.
(2015) surveyed three reefs located on the north and east coast of the
Musandam in 2008 before the HAB, and then again in 2011, more
than two years after the peak bloom had dissipated. Their results
showed not only that these reefs were unaffected by the HAB event,
but that coral cover had actually signicantly increased over the inter-
vening years (2008: 47%; 2011: 59%; Fig. 7). Coral cover in northeast
Musandam is now considerably higher than in most coral communities
in Oman (Fig. 2) or along the southern Arabian/Persian Gulf coast (30 ±
2.1%) and northern Oman Sea coast (14.3 ± 2.5%) of the neighboring
UAE (Grizzle et al., 2015), with the Musandam's Coral Garden reef
having considerably higher coral cover (83%) than observed on any
other reef in eastern Arabia in recent surveys (Bento et al., 2015; Burt
et al., 2011a, b; Burt et al., 2015; Grizzle et al., 2015). Rapid growth
and high cover of coral on these reefs are mainly due to the relatively
high abundances of fast growing branching corals such as Acropora
Fig. 6. Changes in coral cover and reef sh biomass in west Musandam as a result of the
2008/9 harmful algal bloom (HAB). Adapted from Bauman et al. (2010).
Fig. 7. Mean(± SE)live coral cover(left) and relativeabundance ofmajor genera (right) at
three reefs in the Musandam Peninsula. Adapted from Bento et al. (2015).
5J.A. Burt et al. / Marine Pollution Bulletin xxx (2015) xxxxxx
Please cite this article as: Burt, J.A., et al., Oman's coral reefs: A unique ecosystem challenged by natural and man-related stresses and in need of
conservation, Marine Pollution Bulletin (2015),
and Pocillopora (Fig. 7), which together cover over 40% of the reef
bottom at the surveyed sites in the Musandam on average (Bento
et al., 2015). The observation of these corals at such high abundance in
northeast Musandam is a particularly positive indicator of reef condi-
tion, as these stress-sensitive genera have been largely extirpated
from reefs in much of the surrounding area in recent years and now
make up b2% of coral cover in the southern Arabian/Persian Gulf and
b5% of coral on reefs in the northern Oman Sea (Grizzle et al., 2015).
Corals here are also considerably larger than those of conspecics else-
where in the region that have been subject to recurrent stress events
(Bauman et al., 2013), providing additional evidence that these reefs
have escaped much of the impacts that have affected reefs elsewhere
in Oman and represent an important ecological asset that should be
given high priority for conservation.
5. The future of Oman reefs
Nearly two-thirds of reefs in the Middle East are now considered to
be under threat from the integrated threats of local stressors and ther-
mal stress (Burke et al., 2011), and Oman is no exception. Aside from
the various large-scale natural impact events discussed earlier, coral
reefsinOmanhavebeenwidelydegradedasaresultofsheries activity
for many years, both asa result of direct impacts to reefs by shing gear
(e.g. drifting nets, anchor damage, snared ropes) but also as a result of
extraction of functionally important sh species that feed on organisms
that compete or prey on corals (Al-Jufaili et al., 1999; Mendonça et al.,
2010; Salm, 1993; Salm et al., 1993), and impacts from shing have
been continuously considered the most important anthropogenic im-
pact to Oman's reefs since the 1980s (Al-Jufaili et al., 1999; Rezai et al.,
2004; Salm et al., 1993). At more localized scales, coastal development
and eutrophication and pollution associated with urban expansion has
also had increasing impacts on reefs (Al-Jufaili et al., 1999; Coles et al.,
2015; Maghsoudlou et al., 2008).As a result of these andother stressors,
Oman's marine system is highly impacted (Halpern et al., 2008), and
over half of coral reefs in Oman are now considered to be at high to
severe risk as a result of these integrated threats (Burke et al., 2011).
Over the coming decades, climate change and associated ocean acidi-
cation will only compound impacts from local stressors, with N75% of
reef area projected to be under high threat levels by 2030, and virtually
all reefs in Oman under critical threat by 2050 (Burke et al., 2011).
6. Managing reefs for a sustainable future
The results of these analyses conrm that the already fragile coral
reefs in Oman are under increasing pressure associated with a range
of natural and human causes, resulting in signicant degradation.
Coral communities in Oman exist in marginal conditions for coral and
are also impacted by anthropogenic stresses as well as natural distur-
bances (Burt, 2013, 2014; Sale et al., 2011; Sheppard et al., 2010; van
Lavieren et al., 2011). Some of these disturbances, such as bleaching
and major climatic events (e.g. Cyclone Gonu), are global and beyond
the capability of local efforts to render effective protection of Oman's
corals. Shoreline development, by contrast, can be managed locally to
effect greater protection of reef systems. Buildingof marinas, beachfront
hotels and breakwaters that impinge on reefs has proceeded with
unprecedented speed over the last twenty years, especially in the
Muscat area (Coles et al., 2015), and these activities need to be integrated
within an overall management plan. Likewise, development of better
rainwater retention and distribution systems could reduce impacts
from runoff associated with periodic rainstorms that ow unrestricted
into nearshore areas of coral growth, lowering salinity and dropping
massive amounts of sediment. This would have the double benetof
conserving valuable water resources and reducing storm impact upon
corals and reefs. Local shing impacts have long been a source of distur-
bance to reefs through deployment and drifting of derelict shing nets
that entangle and break off live corals and reef structure (Coles et al.,
2015, Salm, 1993).Effortsshouldbemadetoinformshermen that poor-
ly deployed and lost nets are not only costly to them, but also are likely to
damage or destroy the coral reef habitat that supports the reproduction
and growth of the sh that are the source of their income.
Compared to other Gulf countries, Oman has a relatively good track
record in environmental protection and conservation with longstanding
commitment from its Sultan (Al-Cibahy et al., 2012). Oman is currently
party to 13 key regional and international environmental agreements
and protocols that provide guiding principles, international scrutiny,
and in some cases legal backing, for environmental protection in the
marine and coastal environment (Table2;van Lavieren et al., 2011) Fur-
ther, Oman has enacted ample national legislation to support marine
conservation with currently over eight Royal Decrees that are backed
up by Ministerial Decisions thatpertain in some way to marine environ-
mental protection issues (Ashrad and Sayer, 2012).
It should also be recognized, however, that this state of affairs will
likely change as the population and the economy of Oman continue to
grow, and there are a number of key human pressures that will consti-
tute major threats to Oman reefs in the future. Considering the current
state of reefs in Oman and elsewhere in the region (Maghsoudlou
et al., 2008;Sale et al., 2011; Sheppard et al., 2010), recovery is unlikely
unless the remaining reefs and associated habitats that are still in
relatively good health are given sufcient protection (Burt et al., 2014;
van Lavieren et al., 2011). Having a relatively long coastline punctuated
with a mosaic of non-contiguous coral reef habitat, coral conservation in
Oman would be well supported by development of a large and widely
distributed network of well protected areas. Marine Protected Areas
(MPAs) can be effective tools to support and improve ecosystem func-
tion and help restore, reduce and prevent ongoing biodiversity, habitat
and sheries productivity declines or losses (Toropova et al., 2010).
The number of MPAs and amount of area protected varies consider-
ably amongregional countries but overall has shown steady growth to a
total of 173 MPAs currently located in eastern Arabia (van Lavieren and
Klaus, 2013). The majority of these (109) are Proposednational MPAs,
while 64 have been ofcially Designatedcovering an estimated
25,000 km
in the Arabian/Persian Gulf and Oman Sea. Through royal
decrees, Oman has established a number of nature reserves and has
developed a number of specic laws to manage and protect these nature
reserves (Al-Cibahy et al., 2012; van Lavieren and Klaus, 2013). Only 4%
of the total area of Oman is covered byprotected areas, andthe majority
of these areas are terrestrial (10.7% of land area) compared to just 1.3%
of marine area (including both designated and proposed protected
areas) (UNEP-WCMC, 2015). This falls well below the globally set target
by the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) of protecting at least 10% of
coastal and marine ecoregions by 2020 (Toropova et al., 2010).
A recent management review by van Lavieren and Klaus (2013) found
that Oman currently has 13 ofcially designated marine and coastal na-
ture reserves covering a total area of 336 km
(Table 2).These designated
protected areas represent just 0.65% of its territorial waters and 0.06% of
its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), although more are proposed (Fig. 8). A
number of additional sites have been Proposed(Table 2), but as of yet
have not been enacted (van Lavieren and Klaus, 2013). The proportion
of the exclusive economic zone covered by protected areas in Oman is
substantially lower than the global current estimated average (2.86%, vs
0.06% on Oman) (Toropova et al., 2010) and well below the coverage of
other Gulf countries (Fig. 8)(vanLavierenandKlaus,2013). Moreover,
out of the 14 so-called marine nature reserves in Oman, the only one
considered strictly marineis the Daymaniyat Islands Nature Reserve.
Two other small MPAs that include large marine components are Ras
Al-Hadd Turtle Reserve and Jebel Samhan (Supplementary Table 1),
and the majority of remaining Designatedand Proposedreserve sites
are the khawrs along the Dhofar and Salalah coast (van Lavieren and
Klaus, 2013). While not considered marine, these coastal nature reserves
protect mangroves and other wetlands, which is important considering
the degree of connectivity found between marine and coastal ecosys-
tems. While the extension of protected area status to these areas is an
6J.A. Burt et al. / Marine Pollution Bulletin xxx (2015) xxxxxx
Please cite this article as: Burt, J.A., et al., Oman's coral reefs: A unique ecosystem challenged by natural and man-related stresses and in need of
conservation, Marine Pollution Bulletin (2015),
important step in marine management, it is important to note that the
Daymaniyat Islands and Barr Al-Hikman Nature Reserves are the only
designated protected areas in the country that include coral reefs within
their borders.
The effectiveness of enforcement of Oman's protected area regula-
tions is unclear. Current managementstrategies have proven ineffective
and insufcient in the protection of reefs and other marine ecosystems
elsewhere in the region (Burt et al., 2014; Sale et al., 2011; Sheppard
et al., 2010). In Oman, MPA effectiveness for the Daymaniyat Islands
reserve has been scored to be only moderately effective by experts
(van Lavieren and Klaus, 2013). Few if any of the existing protected
areas have management plans and if they do, the related documents
are not readily available to the public (van Lavieren and Klaus, 2013).
Oman has the opportunity to showcase its commitment to environ-
mental protection by designation of all the currently proposed MPAs, as
well as creation of new MPAs that would incorporate important coral
reef habitat that is currently under-represented in Oman's marine man-
agement framework. We have shown here that coral reefs in Oman are
important, but that they have been subject to recurrent stress events
over the past three decades and in many areas are in relatively fragile
condition. We recommend the establishment of a long-term reef
monitoring network and reef-focused MPAs that would allow for
conservation of these existing systems and potential enhancement of
recovery by removing localized stressors from these systems. Networks
or systems of MPAs are widely recognized as a means of building resil-
ience and supporting recovery in response to extreme pulseimpacts
Table 2
Established versus proposed protected areas in Oman Adapted from (Al-Cibahy et al., 2012 and Van Lavieren and Klaus, 2013).
Name Type Status Date Area (km
1 Ad Daymanayat Islands Nature reserve Designated 1996 203
2 Turtle Reserve Nature reserve Designated 1996 120
3 Jebel Samhan Nature reserve Designated 1997 [4500]
4 Khawr Awqad Nature reserve and recreation area Designated 1997 0.0002
5 Khawr Rawri Nature reserve Designated 1997 8.2
6 Khawr Taqah Nature reserve Designated 1997 1.07
7 Khawr Sawli Nature reserve Designated 1997 1
8 Khawr Dahareez Nature scenic reserve Designated 1997 0.0006
9 Khawr Baleed Nature reserve Designated 1997 1
10 Khawr Al-Mughsail Nature reserve Designated 1997 0.0006
11 Khawr Al Qurum AlSagheer Nature reserve Designated 1997 0.0004
12 Khawr Al Qurum AlKabeer Nature reserve Designated 1997 0.0001
12 Salalah Nature reserve and recreation area Designated 1997 NR
13 Qurm Nature reserve Designated 2001 1
14 Barr al Hikman Nature reserve Designated 2015 150
15 Mussandam Area Nature reserve Proposed [1635]
16 Mussandam Islands Nature reserve Proposed [10]
17 Al-Qurum, Al Fahal Nature reserve Proposed NR
18 Bander al-Khairan Nature reserve Proposed NR
19 Ras Abu Da'ud Nature reserve Proposed NR
20 Bander Jissah Nature reserve and recreation area Proposed NR
21 Jabal Bani Jabir Nature reserve and recreation area Proposed NR
22 Ras Sawadi Nature reserve and recreation area Proposed NR
23 Mirbat Nature reserve and recreation area Proposed NR
24 Sadh Nature reserve and recreation area Proposed NR
25 Al-Hasikiyah Nature reserve and recreation area Proposed NR
26 Al-Sawda Nature reserve and recreation area Proposed NR
27 Al-Hallaniyah Nature reserve and recreation area Proposed NR
28 Al-Qibliyah Nature reserve and recreation area Proposed NR
30 Khawr Ghawi Nature reserve and recreation area Proposed NR
31 Az-Zahr Nature reserve and recreation area Proposed NR
32 Barr al-Hikman Nature reserve and recreation area Proposed NR
33 South Masirah Nature reserve and recreation area Proposed NR
34 Masirah Straits Nature reserve and recreation area Proposed NR
35 East Masirah Nature reserve and recreation area Proposed NR
Fig. 8. MPA coverage as represented by (a) total area and (b) percent of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) water for various neighboring countries (Adapted from van Lavieren and Klaus,
7J.A. Burt et al. / Marine Pollution Bulletin xxx (2015) xxxxxx
Please cite this article as: Burt, J.A., et al., Oman's coral reefs: A unique ecosystem challenged by natural and man-related stresses and in need of
conservation, Marine Pollution Bulletin (2015),
(McLeod et al., 2008). Using a network-based approach, rather than
designating isolated sites, would promote reef recovery and source/
sink dynamics to maintain stability of the larger system, particularly if
operated within a broader marine management framework (Sheppard
et al., 2010; van Lavieren and Klaus, 2013). Such a network of MPAs
has been recommended aspart of integrated coastal management plan-
ning in Oman since the 1980s (IUCN, 1986a, 1986b, 1990; Salm and
Dobbin, 1987), and there have been calls for extension of protected
areas to extend to important coral-dominated areas (Al-Jufaili et al.,
1999). For such an MPA network to operate effectively, a broader
national-scale assessment of current ecosystem assets and vulnerability
to climate change and other population-related stressors needs to be
performed to prioritize potential sites for inclusion. The design of the
network then needs to be underwritten by robust science on the con-
nectivity of reef organisms a concept that is still underdeveloped in
Oman (Burt, 2013)to ensure that individual MPAs are spaced ade-
quately to facilitate genetic exchange through the larger network.
Further, such a network will need to becomplemented by other impor-
tant management actions such as guidelines and control for coastal de-
velopments, improved wastewater management for pollution
reduction and sheries control to ensure its long term success.
even improve, there needs to be a shift towards more proactive manage-
ment of marine systems, with decision-making that is data-driven and in-
formed by long-term reef monitoring programs. Additionally, more
science-based information is needed to guide proactive decision-
making and management of coral reefs in Oman. There has been rapid
growth in reef-related science in recent years, and much of this interest
has focused on improving conservation and management of these valu-
able ecosystems (Burt, 2013; Feary et al., 2013; Vaughan and Burt, in
this issue). While this is a move in the right direction, there are still con-
siderable gaps in basic knowledge necessary to support decision-making,
with Oman's reefs continuing to be among the least studied in the entire
Arabian region (Burt, 2013; Vaughan and Burt, in this issue). Expansion of
research on these important marine assets will be critical to supporting
the development of a comprehensive and sustainable management
program for the valuable coral reefs of Oman. Priority areas for research
would include conducting a baseline assessment of reef status to aid
development of a national reef monitoring network, performing an
economic valuation of reef assets and services to support conservation
policy development, and identifying research gaps that need to be lled
foster better management and decision-making. Addressing these areas
will allow for pro-active, data-driven management and ensure the long-
term sustainability of the important coral ecosystems in Oman.
Supplementary data to this article can be found online at http://dx.
We would like to thank the Oman Ministry of Environment and Cli-
mate Affairs for its continuing support of coral reef research through
provision of research permits. We thank Edward Smith for providing
sea surface temperature imagery for Oman. This manuscript originated
from discussions at the Coral Reefs of Arabia conference hosted by the
NYU Abu Dhabi Institute, and their support is appreciated.
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Please cite this article as: Burt, J.A., et al., Oman's coral reefs: A unique ecosystem challenged by natural and man-related stresses and in need of
conservation, Marine Pollution Bulletin (2015),
... (3) the southern shore of Barr Al Hikman and the west coast of Masirah Island; and (4) Dhofar from the Hallaniyat Islands to Mirbat (Glynn, 1993). The Musandam peninsula, Dhofar area, and the Capital Area and Ras Al-Hadd contain the highest, intermediate and low coral coverage, respectively (Burt et al., 2016a). In contrast, the highest coral species richness has been reported from corals in the Arabian Sea. ...
... In spite of the relatively cool environmental conditions driven from monsoonal upwelling, the reefs in the Arabian Sea are biologically influenced by the environmental condition of east Africa and the Gulf of Aden (Sheppard, 1987;Sheppard and Salm, 1988;Salm, 1991Salm, , 1993. It is speculated that in contrast to patterns observed in hard corals, octocorals have higher richness in the southern Arabian Sea than in the areas further north (Burt et al., 2016a). ...
... Cyclone Gonu in 2007 as the strongest tropical cyclone on record in the Arabian Sea, with a maximum wind speed of 270 km.h -1 and gusts reaching 315 km.h -1 (Fritz et al., 2010) had also substantial large scale impacts to reefs in Oman (Burt et al., 2016a). Oman's corals on exposed shores from Muscat to the northern UAE coast of Fujairah were almost entirely eliminated and habitat complexity was reduced (Maghsoudlou et al., 2008;Taylor, 2009;Foster et al., 2011). ...
Technical Report
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY - The ROPME Sea Area (RSA) Coral Reefs are impacted by numerous disturbances including climate change stressors, local to Regional development, fisheries activities, tropical cyclones, coral bleaching, disease, and outbreaks of the corallivorous crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci). - Over the last two decades, these collective disturbances have caused declines in hard coral cover to minimized (<20%) levels across much of the RSA. - Reef condition has been variable both within and among three parts of the RSA (i.e., the Inner RSA, the Middle RSA, the Outer RSA). - Reefs in the Inner RSA have been largely affected from multiple severe disturbances including large scale development, and two episodes of severe coral bleaching over the period 1996 to 2019. - In response to these disturbances, low hard coral cover in the Inner RSA continues to decline in this Region. - Reefs in the Middle and Outer RSA relatively escaped major disturbances from 1996 until 2017, during which two episodes of severe coral bleaching occurred over the period 1996 to 2019. Yet, fisheries activities, tropical cyclones, and outbreak of crown-of-thorns starfish impacted the reefs in the Region. - Large-scale bleaching events in the Inner RSA, are clearly linked to unusual temperatures and the accumulation of heat stress in corals, yet other drivers, such as UV and water acidity, can have compounding effects. - The Inner RSA warming rate is 2 to 3 times faster than the global average. Thus, future climate projections indicate that the Inner RSA undergoes substantial warming that may exceed 3 °C and 4 °C by the end of the century under moderate mitigation emission scenario Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP 4.5) and business as usual (RCP 8.5) emission scenario. - According to RCP 8.5, the warming in the Middle RSA and Outer RSA is less than the Inner RSA, increasing by approximately 2.5°C in 2099, relative to 2010. - The Inner RSA corals can support about 5°C more heat over their relatives in the Great Barrier Reef and in the Caribbean. Therefore, if corals are not subjected to other stressors, there may be a rational expectation that at least a subset of today’s coral fauna may adapt to a heated world. - The supersaturated aragonite in the Inner RSA seawater suggests that acidification is likely to be a less imminent threat to Coral Reefs than the rapid increases in temperatures. - Decreasing salinity in the eastern side of the Inner RSA by 2099 and in the Outer RSA is expected to adversely affect the Coral Reefs by changing their community structure. - The Middle RSA and Outer RSA, are projected to experience stronger deoxygenation than the wider Indian Ocean. Therefore, any further reduction in oxygen levels in the RSA can put marine life under serious threat leading to the increased mortality of organisms on Coral Reefs. - The complete recovery of Coral Reefs in shallow areas of the Inner RSA is unlikely; as forecasts suggest that Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) will be undesirable for coral growth in the future. - The Coral Reef coverage in deeper areas of the Inner RSA will increase, but probably by changing the species composition. Thus, the future composition and structure of the coral communities in the Inner RSA will be shaped by the vulnerability of various species to climate change and local stressors. The reefs across Oman and Iran’s coastline in the Middle RSA and Outer RSA are under threat from the integrated threats of local stressors (fisheries activities) and thermal stress. Over the next decades, climate change and related ocean acidification in combination with local stressors will cause >75% of the reef area to be under high threats by 2030, and almost all of the Oman reefs under a critical threat by 2050. - Reefs in the Inner RSA experienced a significant loss due to severe coral bleaching in 2017. To date, recovery has been limited and hard coral cover on survey reefs increased slightly from 10% in 2017 to 20% in 2019. - Reefs in the Middle and Outer RSA sustained significant coral loss due to severe 2017 bleaching episode. Yet, these reefs are prone to be affected by the concurrent Tropical Cyclones and the continued spread of crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks. - Superimposed on natural threats, coastal development will continue in the Inner RSA with increased rates of landfill and dredging causing more stress to the nearshore reefs. It is suggested that all the ROPME Member States strengthen the national Coral Reef monitoring network to prepare a National status of Coral Reefs to report every year and to share metadata on Coral Reefs with all ROPME Member States. - The resilience of the Inner RSA corals is probably best maintained by preserving biodiversity in Coral Reefs and adequately incorporating corals from different reefs under a network of protected areas, or managed reserves. - Placing Coral Reef conservation in the wider context of strategic economic development at the National level will certainly enable the authorities and Non-Governmental Organizations to become more active in shaping a better basis for marine conservation. Implementing Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is a necessary step in illustrating the strategic planning opportunities that can offer to Coral Reef management and conservation.
... Low wind speeds without preferred orientation typically occur during the two intermonsoon seasons (spring intermonsoon, autumn intermonsoon) (Beal et al., 2013;Lee et al., 2000). Surface wind Salm, 1993;Burt et al., 2016). The black asterisk marks the sampling site at the southern tip of Masirah Island. ...
... Coral growth off Oman occurs within six distinct provinces, including Marbat, the Kuria Muria Islands, Masirah Island and Barr al Hikman, the capital area, the Daymaniyat Islands, and Musandam ( Fig. 1; Burt et al., 2016;Salm, 1993). The occurrence of corals at Masirah Island is limited to very shallow water depths of 1-4 m (Glynn, 1993). ...
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Tropical shallow-water reefs are the most diverse ecosystems in the ocean. Their persistence rests upon adequate calcification rates of the reef building biota, such as reef corals. Coral calcification is favoured in oligotrophic environments with high seawater saturation states of aragonite (Ωsw), which leads to an increased vulnerability to anthropogenic ocean acidification and eutrophication. Here we present Porites calcification records from the northern Arabian Sea upwelling zone and investigate the coral calcification response to low Ωsw and high nutrient concentrations due to seasonal upwelling. The calcification rate was determined from the product of skeletal extension rate and bulk density. Skeletal Ba/Ca and Li/Mg proxy data were used to identify skeletal portions that calcified during upwelling and non-upwelling seasons, respectively, and to reconstruct growth temperatures. With regard to sub-annual calcification patterns, our results demonstrate compromised calcification rates during the upwelling season. This is due to declining extension rates, which we attribute to light dimming caused by high primary production. Interestingly, seasonal variations in skeletal density show no relationship with temporally low Ωsw during upwelling. This suggests relatively constant, year-round saturation states of aragonite at the site of calcification (Ωcf) independent of external variability in Ωsw. Although upwelling does not affect seasonal density variability, exceptionally low mean annual density implies permanent Ωcf adjustment to the lowest sub-annual Ωsw (e.g. upwelling). In the Arabian Sea upwelling zone, the mean annual calcification rate is similar to Porites from non-upwelling regions because low skeletal density is compensated by high extension growth. Variable responses of reef coral extension to nutrients, which either exacerbate or compensate negative effects of diminished skeletal density associated with ocean acidification, may therefore be critical to the maintenance of adequate carbonate accumulation rates in coral reefs under global change.
... Relative "refugia" exist in offshore shoals and fringing reefs where deeper, cooler surrounding waters buffer the extreme conditions [43,150,154,155], but elsewhere in the I-RSA corals reefs exhibit varying degrees of stress, physiological impairment, disease and mortality [7,58,134,152,[156][157][158][159]. Shamal winds can also provide some temporary respite by maintaining water temperature below bleaching thresholds during summer [64], but during calm periods marine heat waves can develop, as has been occurring with increasing frequency [76]. ...
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Citation: Lincoln, S.; Buckley, P.; Howes, E.L.; Maltby, K.M.; Pinnegar, J.K.; Ali, T.S.; Alosairi, Y.; Al-Ragum, A.; Baglee, A.; Balmes, C.O.; et al.
... Like Yemen, Porites is the dominant coral form in the coastal waters of Oman (Salm 1993). Burt et al. (2016) mentioned that the corals of Oman grow under three different water masses, namely the Sea of Oman, Persian Gulf waters, and the Arabian Sea. However, the species diversity (106 species) recorded so far is far less than that of Yemen (Claereboudt 2006). ...
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Despite the debate that continues to go on, at present, corals do not qualify to be a part of the conventional blue carbon ecosystems. Nonetheless, these marine ecosystems are crucial as they provide a plethora of ecosystem services not only to humans but also to several blue carbon ecosystems. These ecosystems provide shelter to the adjacent seagrass and mangroves. Corals act as wave breakers in many parts of the world and thereby furnishes a calm and stable environment to blue carbon ecosystems lying adjacent to each other. The present chapter collated the knowledge acquired so far on the coral species count and areal cover in the different countries bordering the Indian Ocean. This chapter also discussed the various threats that make corals vulnerable on these coastlines. We observed a spatial disparity in the degree of attention paid to the corals bordering the Indian Ocean. The coral triangle region received much higher attention than that observed in the western Indian Ocean. Several countries are yet to configure the principal threats to the corals lying on their coastline. Thus, this chapter apart from detailing the present state-of-the-art identifies the arenas that require scientific attention in the Indian Ocean periphery.
... Furthermore, due to its major ports (Fujairah and Khor Fakkan) and proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman coast of the UAE is frequented by a disproportionately large volume of tanker traffic (http:// along with their accompanying hazards (Fowler et al., 2007;Burt et al., 2016;Jupp et al., 2019;Vaughan et al., 2019). In this study, we report details of an oil spill causing mass mortality of sea snakes from the coast of Kalba, Sharjah, UAE. ...
Oil spills in the marine environment inflict significant impacts on a wide diversity of marine fauna. Despite the abundance of literature describing these impacts on numerous species no studies describe the impacts on sea snakes. In this study we report, for the first time, details of an oil spill which caused mass mortality of sea snakes. In this study, 39 sea snake mortalities from the Gulf of Oman, in particular, the coast of Kalba, Sharjah, UAE, were studied. The investigated sea snakes belong to four different species (Hydrophis platurus, H. lapemoides, H. spiralis and H. ornatus). The majority (84.6%) of sea snakes were observed to have oil covering 75–100% of their bodies. The majority (91.4%) of sea snakes were also observed with oil covering their snouts and eyes. A large proportion (25.8, 41.4 and 34.5%) of sea snakes were observed with oil in their mouth, esophagus and stomach.
... Conversely, although attributable to the high abundance of macrofoulers, the significant temporal changes in the abundance of biofouling communities on Oman panels may also be enhanced by the unavoidable seasonal changes in the current flow patterns of the Sea of Oman. Previous oceanographic surveys in this region have pointed out the increased proliferation of microorganisms as a consequence of mixing of nutrient-rich and nutrient-deficit waters from Indian Ocean and AG (Pous et al., 2004;Burt et al., 2016;Piontkovski and Queste, 2016;Ahd et al., 2019;Piontkovski et al., 2019). ...
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Marine biofouling is a complicated process involving changes within micro- and macro-fouling community, species co-occurrence, and inter-taxa association patterns. An investigation of all above-mentioned aspects has rarely been conducted so far. Our study aimed to compare the monthly succession of the biofouling community developed at two locations each in the north- (Kuwait) and south-west (Oman) of the Arabian Gulf (AG) over 6 months, and to explore the association patterns within microfouling and between micro- and macro-fouling communities on a temporal and spatial scale. Spatio-temporal effects on the abundance and composition of micro- and macro-fouling communities were detected based on total biomass, bacterial and phototroph abundances, macrofouling coverage and 16S rRNA gene sequencing. We documented the development of distinct ecological niches within the fouling community resulting in fundamentally different succession patterns depending on location. Network analysis revealed nine clusters of highly interconnected co-occurring fouling bacterial taxa (M1-M9), with strong association (both positive and negative) to microalgae and macrofoulers in both Kuwait and Oman. Early stages of Kuwait biofilm showed M7 (cyanobacterial OTUs) positively and negatively associated with the majority of diatoms and macroalgae (Cladophoraceae), respectively, unlike the later stages where M5 (composed of Vibrio spp.) was positively associated with polychaetes ( Hydroides elegans ). While the causal relationships behind the observed inter-taxa associations remain unknown, our study provided insights into the underlying dynamics of biofouling processes encountered in the north- and south-west of the AG. Comprehensive future investigations encompassing transcriptomic or metabolomic tools may be required to address the challenge of interpreting such complicated dynamics over time and space in a continuously changing environment.
... Relative "refugia" exist in offshore shoals and fringing reefs where deeper, cooler surrounding waters buffer the extreme conditions [43,150,154,155], but elsewhere in the I-RSA corals reefs exhibit varying degrees of stress, physiological impairment, disease and mortality [7,58,134,152,[156][157][158][159]. Shamal winds can also provide some temporary respite by maintaining water temperature below bleaching thresholds during summer [64], but during calm periods marine heat waves can develop, as has been occurring with increasing frequency [76]. ...
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The Regional Organization for the Protection of the Marine Environment (ROPME) Sea Area (RSA) in the northern Indian Ocean, which comprises the Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the northern Arabian Sea, already experiences naturally extreme environmental conditions and incorporates one of the world's warmest seas. There is growing evidence that climate change is already affecting the environmental conditions of the RSA, in areas including sea temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH, and sea level, which are set to continue changing over time. The cumulative impacts of these changes on coastal and marine ecosystems and dependent societies are less well documented, but are likely to be significant, especially in the context of other human stressors. This review represents the first regional synthesis of observed and predicted climate change impacts on marine and coastal ecosystems across the ROPME Sea Area and their implications for dependent societies. Climate-driven ecological changes include loss of coral reefs due to bleaching and the Citation: Lincoln, S.; Buckley, P.; Howes, E.L.; Maltby, K.M.; Pinnegar, J.K.; Ali, T.S.; Alosairi, Y.; Al-Ragum, A.; Baglee, A.; Balmes, C.O.; et al. A Regional Review of Marine and Coastal Impacts of Climate Change on the ROPME Sea Area. Sustainability 2021, 13, 13810. https://doi.
... The southwest summer monsoon triggers upwelling along the coast, which results in movement of the cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface and subsequent increase in primary productivity (Claereboudt, 2019). Rich coral reefs and extensive sandy beaches occur along the Omani coast (Burt et al., 2016;Claereboudt, 2019). In this region, mangrove forests, coral reefs, seagrass, and seaweed communities harbour rich biota (Claereboudt, 2019). ...
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Sea cucumbers are benthic marine invertebrates with immense ecological and commercial value. Processed sea cucumbers known as “Beche-de-mer” are a delicacy in southeast Asian countries with an ever-increasing demand depleting wild stocks on a global scale. Aquaculture techniques are well developed for commercially important species (eg. Holothuria scabra) to aid in conservation and trade. In the Arabian Peninsula and Iran, where the major land mass is surrounded by marginal seas (Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Red Sea), studies on sea cucumbers are rather limited and its economic value is underestimated. Historical and current research trends indicate impoverished diversity (82 species) due to environmental extremes. Artisanal fisheries exist for the sea cucumbers of Iran, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, with Yemen and United Arab Emirates (UAE) playing a key role in collection and export to Asian countries. Stock assessment and data on export indicates depletion of natural stocks in Saudi Arabia and Oman. Aquaculture trials of high value species (H. scabra) were successful in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Iran with prospects for further expansion. Research on ecotoxicological properties and bioactive substances conducted in Iran demonstrates an immense research potential. Molecular phylogeny, biology, use in bioremediation, and characterisation of bioactive compounds were identified as potential gaps in research. Expanding aquaculture operations could revive exports and recuperate damaged stocks through sea ranching. Furthermore, regional cooperation, networking, training, and capacity building could help fill the gaps in sea cucumber research, which will aid in its effective conservation and management.
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Coral reefs represent the most biodiverse ecosystem in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and these habitats support high fisheries productivity, an economic resource sector second only to oil, and a burgeoning ecotourism sector. Corals occur in all seven Emirates, with the highest coral diversity occurring on the east coast along the Sea of Oman and declining along a gradient from the Strait of Hormuz to western Abu Dhabi, reflecting the more extreme environmental conditions towards the southwestern Gulf. Coral reefs of the Emirates are among the most heat tolerant in the world, and as a result have come to represent an important natural asset for international science. However, impacts from coastal development and recent severe marine heat waves have pushed these robust corals past their physiological thresholds, and reefs have become heavily degraded in the past decade across much of the UAE. Active management intervention is needed to conserve and restore the important reef ecosystems to ensure these vibrant habitats are retained for the next generation.
Aim Distribution patterns of lineages alone do not explain the processes underlying phylogenetic differentiation in fishes observed around the Arabian Peninsula, whose hypotheses traditionally rely on (i) Pleistocene vicariance events, (ii) successive bottlenecks, (iii) recent founder effects (iv) and large spatial gradients in physical conditions. In this study, we test the hypothesis that phylogeographical patterns of coral‐dependent fish species inhabiting the peninsula may be driven by a combination of ocean circulation, larval behaviour and seascape features. Location Arabian Peninsula. Taxa Coral reef fish. Methods A biophysical modelling system that relies on stochastic Lagrangian framework and Individual‐Based Model was used to simulate larval dispersal through three putative barriers, by tracking three‐dimensional movements of virtual particles in ocean circulation scenarios. We explored the range of dispersal capabilities across reef fish species by creating 72 hypothetical strategies, each representing a unique combination of five biological traits, namely pelagic larval duration, spawning periodicity, mortality rate, reproductive output and vertical migration. Results The strength of the barriers was highly variable as a function of all biological traits (except reproductive output) and indicated high asymmetry of connectivity, and hence gene flow, between adjacent areas. In addition, direction and distance travelled by the virtual larvae varied according to both the geographical position of releasing site and biannual monsoonal winds. On average, larvae released during the summer exhibited a higher potential for dispersal than larvae released during the winter. Main conclusions Our biophysical models showed that in the Arabian Peninsula, the combination of hydrodynamic, seascape features and larval traits likely affects the distribution of genetic lineages due to the interruption, reduction or asymmetry of larval movements through the putative barriers.
Reef corals and coral reefs of the Gulf of Oman is the first comprehensive photographic guide for the visual identification of scleractinian corals or true corals in the Sultanate of Oman. Illustrated with more than 850 color photographs, drawings and maps, it is designed to help divers as well as scientists to distinguish the many species of corals encountered along the gulf of Oman. More than 120 species have been catalogued and photographed in the coastal communities of the Sultanate.
The main purposes are to collate information of the region, to review marine systems and processes in the intertidal and shallow sublittoral parts of the Arabian seas, and to highlight human utilisation and environmental consequences. The first section presents the geological, geographical, climatic and oceanographic background to the area. The second section examines what is known of the region's marine communities, interpreting the relationships between the marine systems and physical conditions for: reefs and coral communities; coral reef fish assemblages; other reef components and processes; seaweeds and seasonality; seagrasses and other dynamic substrates; intertidal areas - mangal associated ecosystems, marshes, sabkha and beaches; and the pelagic system. The next section synthesizes and concludes the biogeographical material and interprets the effects of natural stress on the biota. The final section describes and discusses the human use and management of the region, including fisheries. -after Authors
A new species of Bebryce Philippi, 1842 from the Gulf of Oman is described and fi gured, B. inermis n. sp. It is characterized by having tiny rosettes (< 0.05 mm long) with convex surface in the surface layer of the coenenchyme, it is compared with the only four other species of Bebryce having such small rosettes, B. boninensis Aurivillius, 1931, B. cinerea Deichmann, 1936, B. stellata Hentschel, 1903 and B. studeri Whitelegge, 1897. Sclerites of B. studeri are also presented, and newly collected specimens identifi ed as B. stellata are also described and fi gured. © Publications Scientifiques du Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris.
Coral reefs and coral communities were surveyed at about 500 sites in the Red Sea, Gulf and Arabian Sea. The taxonomy of the Arabian scleractinian coral fauna is revised. A new species of Rhizopsammia is described. Measurements of coral distribution, diversity, abundance and community composition were made. Analysis of the Red Sea data showed 13 basic coral communities. High energy areas are dominated by Acropora communities, while Porites dominates in shallow sheltered areas. The most widespread community is a faviid zone extending to depths of 20 or 40 m. Of a total 220 corals, 180-187 are reef building. Ecological gradients and the zoogeographical patterns are discussed, the latter including suggested recruitment patterns into the region after the Pleistocene. -from Authors
When the IIOE was planned, it was considered a valuable objective to examine the upwelling regions which had been reported in the Arabian Sea (Bobzin, 1922) but had never before been the object of scientific observation.
Six percent of the world's coral reefs occur around the Arabian Peninsula, providing a valuable ecological, economic and scientific resource for the nations bordering its shores. We provide the first region-wide assessment of the current status and historical trends in coral reef research, focusing on research in the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and Arabian Gulf. In total, 633 regional reef publications have been produced since the 1930s, covering a wide variety of themes and taxa. Our results show a great deal of commonality in regional reef research, but also highlight important differences in research among the various seas as well as knowledge gaps that represent opportunities for future research. A regionally-integrated approach to future research is essential. There is a growing need for large-scale research to guide management of reefs and their stressors, as these operate at much larger scales than the national borders within which most research currently occurs.
Coral reefs of the United Arab Emirates were once extensive, but have declined dramatically in recent decades. Marine management and policy have been hampered by outdated and inaccurate habitat maps and habitat quality information. We combined existing recent datasets with our newly mapped coral habitats to provide a current assessment of nation-wide extent, and performed quantitative surveys of communities at 23 sites to assess coral cover and composition. Over 132km(2) of coral habitat was mapped, averaging 28.6±3.8% live coral cover at surveyed sites. In the Arabian Gulf low cover, low richness Porites dominated communities characterized western Abu Dhabi, while reefs northeast of Abu Dhabi city generally contained higher richness and cover, and were dominated by merulinids (formerly faviids). Distinct communities occur in the Sea of Oman, where cover and richness were low. We provide management recommendations to enhance conservation of vulnerable coral reefs in the UAE.